Its name and nature
At the very end of the Yijing comes the hexagram called Not Yet Across – the embodiment of incompletion and imperfection, an ellipsis in hexagram form. It’s a very large-scale, oracle-sized joke about our expectations of tidiness and order.
The Chinese name has two characters: 未濟, wei meaning ‘not-yet’ and ji meaning ‘across’. 未 , wei, originally shows a tree in bud, not yet flowering. Intriguingly, the same character is part of the character mei, 妹, meaning ‘maiden’ – as in Hexagram 54, ‘Marrying Maiden’. Etymologically, a maiden is a ‘Woman Not-Yet’.
濟 ji, ‘across’, is the same character as in Hexagram 63, ‘Already Across’. I wrote about that one,
‘Across’ has two parts: the river, and a sign for what is neat, together, complete, like a field of grain ready for harvest. Together, the word means ‘cross a river’[…]
River crossing is a big, important image in the Yijing, of course, with the expression ‘cross the great river’ describing a significant and risky commitment. Crossing rivers in old China was perilous in general, not something you’d undertake if still unsure of your direction.
The image also has two more specific roots: one military, one marital. The Zhou people had a great river to cross to enter the territory of the Shang regime they were called to overthrow. And as part of marriage rituals, men and women would cross rivers to be with one another. Both of these provide useful ways of thinking about what kind of commitment ‘river crossing’ can represent in readings now – in the ‘cross the great river’ idiom, and in hexagrams 63 and 64.
The fox’s dilemma
‘Not yet across, creating success.Hexagram 64, the Oracle
The small fox, almost across,
Soaks its tail:
No direction bears fruit.’
Tradition says that this is about a fox trying to cross a frozen river, walking on the ice, and not falling in.
The Book of Songs offers some clues as to the symbolic significance of the fox. There are songs about crossing the river to reach one’s partner, and there are also foxes stalking through songs of courtship.
The fox of Hexagram 64 seems to have a lot to do with marriage, and indeed I’ve seen quite a few readings with commitment-phobic potential partners represented as this fox.
However, this isn’t only about hesitancy: the fox is in real danger. Here’s an unusual story of a fox that came to grief crossing a frozen river – unusual, because the fox was rescued. There are plenty of reports of foxes dying in frozen rivers: getting stuck, falling in, frozen into solid ice. (And also plenty of folk tales of animals – foxes included – trying to fish through ice holes with their tales, and getting stuck.) If the fox gets his tail wet, it will be weighed down and drag along the ice – where it may freeze on and hold him fast. Then no direction will bear fruit.
So crossing this river comes with real risk. You can be almost there and still get stuck, ‘not continuing to the end’ as the Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the Judgement) says. You want to be very, very sure of the state of the ice before you commit yourself, and you need to keep your ears pricked as you make your way across.
This is one of those cases where ‘no direction bears fruit’ could have a double meaning. If you get caught by the tail, you can pull in any direction and won’t get free. But if you moved without a set direction, always responding to circumstances, perhaps having no direction would bear fruit in a successful crossing.
Not Yet Across as primary and relating hexagram
When Not Yet Across is the relating hexagram – the one revealed when all the moving lines are changed – it seems to be more likely to describe a fear of commitment. (‘What if I go past a point of no return?’) In some of my readings, with hindsight, the commitment would have been a good one to make, for others not so much, and for many I’m still not sure.
When it’s the primary (cast) hexagram, the emphasis is less on mindset, and more on the unresolved nature of the situation. I found a whole string of examples in my journal where I’d already found a solution to a problem, but for some reason wanted to keep looking. Sometimes this was probably a case of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the river,’ but at other times it reflected a situation that just naturally keeps on evolving, and doesn’t lend itself to resolution. Perhaps in those, I’m always going to be like the fox, still picking my way across the ice.
This can make Hexagram 64 feel thoroughly frustrating – especially if you’re aware of having ‘arrived’ at Hexagram 63 already. So you’ve got everything done? Maybe, but everything is still to do.
‘Things cannot be finished, and so Not Yet Across follows – and so the completion.’Hexagram 63, Sequence
The Zagua, the 10th Wing of the Yijing that describes hexagrams in contrasting pairs, actually compares 64 not with 63 but with 54 – the Marrying Maiden, or ‘Not-Yet Woman’:
‘Marrying Maiden: completion for the woman.The Zagua
Not Yet Across: exhaustion of the male.’
It helps, I think, to imagine ‘the male’ here as using strength to obtain a result: goal-oriented activity, pursuing one’s own direction. The oracles of both these hexagrams will tell you that ‘no direction bears fruit’, and really, the marrying maiden’s situation isn’t so different from that of the fox: unable to choose her own path, compelled to respond to circumstances.
To appreciate Hexagram 64, to respond to it intelligently, you might need to find a less ‘male’ approach. Here’s a river you can’t necessarily finish crossing, or a conquest of Demon Country that might never be complete.
Already Across, Not Yet Across and Demon Country
As I wrote before, hexagrams 63 and 64 have a uniquely close relationship: they’re one another’s inverse, and opposite, and nuclear hexagram, and exchanged-trigram hexagram. This structural intertwining translates into thematic closeness, too. There’s always a sense that the dividing line between them is very thin, and you’re never far from the paired hexagram.
You can see that closeness vividly in 63.3 –
‘The high ancestor attacks the Demon Country.Hexagram 63, line 3
Three years go round, and he overcomes it.
Don’t use small people.’
and 64.4 –
‘Constancy, good fortune, regrets vanish.Hexagram 64, line 4
The Thunderer uses this to attack the Demon Country.
Three years go round, and there are rewards in the great city.’
These two are ‘paired lines’: the same line, in effect, just seen with the hexagram inverted:
‘Demon Country’ is the name of a bordering state that constantly threatened the peace of the Shang, and later of the Zhou. The ‘high ancestor’ was the Shang king Wu Ding – who, we learn, finally subdued the enemy after a three year campaign.
And the ‘Thunderer’, who wages another three year campaign in 64.4? He’s thought to have been a Zhou general, waging war on behalf of his Shang overlords a century or more after Wu Ding.
So this prefigures the rising strength of the Zhou – but it also illustrates quite plainly that Wu Ding’s victory wasn’t a permanent one. And I imagine everyone in Zhou times would have known that the ‘Demon Country problem’ hadn’t gone away with the Thunderer’s victory, either.
In readings, this line points to all those things that keep coming back to haunt you and disturb your peace – and it does this not just with these two tales from history, but also with the hexagrams’ structure. First, the paired lines reflect one another. And second, changing these lines carries you all the way back to Hexagrams 3 and 4 – the longest gap between hexagrams bridged by any single line change – saying more clearly than any words, ‘Just when you think you’ve finished, you’re starting all over again.’
Fire, water and whiskers
The trigrams of Hexagram 64 are – just as in 63, Already Across – fire and water. They’re complementary trigrams: you can imagine sliding them together, seeing yang lines slot neatly into the spaces provided by yin ones. It all fits: fire and water go together; they’ll make steam, cook your food… once you get the water above the fire. Not Yet Across has all the right elements in all the wrong places; the challenge is to sort them out.
‘Fire dwells above stream. Not yet across.Hexagram 64, Image
A noble one carefully differentiates between beings, so each finds its place.’
The noble one is using the light-giving qualities of fire above, shining into the currents below. It reminds me of the fox on the ice: ears pricked, whiskers quivering, all attuned to sense what’s moving under his paws.
‘Differentiating’ (something the noble one also did in Hexagram 13’s Image) means distinguishing between, discriminating, clarifying, and hence managing, governing. And here, she differentiates carefully – 慎 – a character that includes the heart radical. The qualities of water – emotional flow and depth – are engaged, too.
What does it mean to ‘differentiate between beings’ with emotional care? I think Balkin put it exceptionally well:
‘You have to understand the elements of the situation and all the forces at your disposal. You have to get people working together rather than against each other, and you have to get all of your resources working together in synch rather than randomly and haphazardly.’Jack Balkin, The Laws of Change
This can be an internal process, too, though – a kind of emotional intelligence. For instance, is that reluctance just a product of fear, or is it intuitive guidance? This kind of question, where you try to ‘find the place’ for your own ideas and reactions, is also 64-work, and very important for the fox.
(And if this article seems oddly unfinished…)